3 countries warn Houthis of consequences if they continue to attack cargo ships
Houthi members brought the cargo ship Galaxy Leader to Yemen in November 2023. Photo: Reuters

The United States and 12 other countries warned that Houthi forces would face consequences if they did not immediately stop their attacks on cargo ships in the area.

“We call for an immediate end to these attacks and the release of illegally detained ships and crews,” according to a joint statement released by the White House on January 3.

“The Houthis will be held accountable for the consequences they cause by continuing to threaten lives, the global economy and the free flow of trade on important sea routes in the region,” the statement said.

The 12 countries participating in the joint statement led by the US include the UK, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore. The only country in the Middle East participating is Bahrain, which has particularly tense relations with Iran, which backs the Houthi forces in Yemen.

A senior official in US President Joe Biden’s administration said that although he did not specify the consequences that the Houthi forces would face, the common message of the 13 countries was “very clear.” This official said President Biden has consulted with security advisers about options for Houthi raids.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on January 3 warned that the country would take direct action and demanded that Houthi forces “stop deadly and destabilizing raids on ships.” “The UK will always act to protect freedom of navigation,” Mr. Sunak said.

Houthi is an armed group backed by Iran and controls many areas in western Yemen, including the capital Sanaa. Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, Houthi leader, warned in December 2023 that this force would fight back if attacked by the US.

Houthi forces have repeatedly raided ships passing through the Red Sea area, claiming these activities are intended to show support for the Palestinians. The raids affected the maritime route, where 15% of global trade passes, causing the US to establish a specialized multinational naval force to cope.

On December 31, 2023, the US Navy announced the interception of two anti-ship missiles and the sinking of three Houthi boats approaching the container ship Maersk Hangzhou. Houthi later said 10 members of this force were killed.

On January 3, Houthis announced an attack on a cargo ship flying the Maltese flag because they believed the vehicle was “heading towards the occupied territory of Palestine”. The attack did not hit this cargo ship.